22, Besiki Street, Tbilisi
Mundane, daily chores are actually quite fun to do when one is not at home, but simply playing house.
We have rented a small house in Tbilisi for five nights, partly for the space, and partly to be able to get under the skin of the city, at least a very little bit.
Our little grocery store is a case in point; having been in now for three days in a row, this morning when I went to buy some eggs and bread I was pondering the selection in the cooler to see if there was something that resembled butter, or perhaps a spreadable cheese. After about a two-minute ponder, the owner came over, wrapped in a big smile, and advised me to get the small package, wrapped in a reddish cover with pictures of what appeared to be a collection of empty puff-pastry cases.
Now, I bought it because it was cheap, she was enthusiastic and although the thought that she had had this for a year or more and could finally rid her shop of it crossed my mind, I didn’t think that she was going to be that sinister. I am back home now, and wondering who actually buys this rather dusty and overly sweet pineapple curd.
Home is temporarily 22, Besiki Street, Tbilisi. It is a two storey house with three bedrooms, two bathrooms, an equipped kitchen and a large living room. There is air conditioning in the main bedroom, quickly and emphatically claimed by the parents. We are a three or four minute walk to Rustaveli, a main street, where there are cafes, shops and life.
The house costs $80 per day, a very fair price, and the neighbourhood is lovely. In common with so many older places, books can’t be judged by their covers. Dusty and partly crumbling streets belie the small courtyards with well-kept homes behind. Life is played out in the small cafes, the door steps and courtyards of the street; the language is, of course, a dreadful barrier, but we are coming to grips with some simple words, and do seem to be a source of some amusement to the residents.
Taking out the garbage, scouring the neighbourhood in search of some unguent to clean the fridge and even doing the dishes become interesting. Not interesting enough to encourage our daughters to join in perhaps, but there you go.
The house is, it has to be said, on the brown side; “like a Granny’s house”, one girl said helpfully. Seat coverings are a heavy brown, rope-mesh, the sort that is sold by the ten-metre swath at fishing-supply emporia. I do love it though, all the fun of playing house; sharing a flake of intimacy with Tbilisi and almost being a part of this fabulous city.
It is funny too, how fast people recognise you, but then again, I am sure that if a Georgian family moved into our neighbourhood, they would be spotted fast too. But it matters not; folks are friendly, although it has to be said that a surprising number of people stay up very late, and one in particular has a penchant for enjoying the more obtrusive crooners of the 1980s in the small hours. This, of course, reflects unemployment, a fact of life that passes hotel-dwellers by, but determines the rhythms of the residential areas.
In Georgia one is never far away from the legacies of the 1990s and the destruction wrought by the civil wars of the Caucuses. In 1993 alone, following the Russian occupation, some 200,000 Abkhazian refugees came to Tbilisi swelling the city’s numbers and introducing a large number of rural folk to an urban environment. Many came to the Mtatsminda district of the city where we stayed, and clearly changed the fabric of the area. For us it didn’t matter one bit, as we had no sensitivity to rural accents, but there are certainly hundreds of thousands of un- and under-employed in Tbilisi, and they don’t’ seem the feel an urge to get to bed early.
And so life ticks on by; I rather wish that we were here for a couple of weeks, and really get to understand the community better, but we are not. I will be back, though, and look forward to coming home to number 22, Besiki Street, my new home away from home.